This year, I received an incredible gift. For nearly two decades, I have wanted to attend Burning Man– an art event that happens every year in the desert of Nevada– but since it was always the first or second week of school, I could never go. So long as I was a student or teacher, it was an impossible dream.
This spring, though, some part of my intuition suggested that I simply try. After all, tickets are not easy to get and the logistics for a first timer are so complicated, it was unlikely that it would work out anyway.
Then the magic started to happen. Within one minute of general ticket sales, I had a ticket, and shortly thereafter, a camp of kind and friendly folks to help guide me through the logistics.
It still didn’t make sense. Even as easily as these pieces lined up, it still didn’t make any sense for me as a teacher to take leave during the second week of school. I knew it would be easy to sell my ticket and thought that maybe I should.
A couple months passed with ticket in hand. Then at the beginning of the summer I learned some incredible news. The Renwick Gallery– which the students of SWS loved during its Wonder exhibit nearly two years ago– is planning its next, big exhibition which will come out at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
Its title? “No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man.”
As the Renwick Gallery website describes, the show “will take over the entire Renwick Gallery building, bringing alive the maker culture of Burning Man through artworks, immersive room-sized installations, jewelry, costumes and ephemera.”
For once, my dream of attending made sense! With the support of our principal, I was able to leave to attend during the second week of school. Serendipitously, attending one of the world’s largest art events had become professional development!
While it’s true that many more adults attend Burning Man than children, and some of the events are not appropriate for children, there is most certainly a place for children on the playa. Before leaving for the desert, I met with classes of students and showed them pictures and an edited video (see the full version here: The Kids of Burning Man) of where I was going. They learned about the large-scale installations, the fantastic, homemade costumes, light sculptures, and many kids’ favorite– the art cars.
My experience on the playa was so dense and immersive, it deserves its own blog post (or book!). One truly transformative aspect was interacting with the art. In the “default world,” our experience of art is usually in the form of art hanging on a wall, in a museum or gallery, where it is to be looked at briefly and never touched. The art at Burning Man, however, flipped this paradigm on its head. Much of the art created for the desert is intended to be climbed upon, crawled inside of, laid underneath, or moved on wheels. The art must be able to withstand the harsh environment of the desert sun and sudden dust storms. Sometimes the art won’t even function without participants pulling on ropes, pushing buttons, turning a wheel or pedaling hard. This form of participatory art requires us to interact with the object, our environment, each other, and ourselves in ways that challenge, entertain, and inspire.
Since returning, I can barely contain the joy (and the little giggle I have in my heart) when I hear children ask, “Hey Miss Erika! Welcome back! How was Burning Man?” Many parents have reported that their child asked if they could go to Burning Man, talked incessantly about it around the dinner table, or started making drawings of Burning Man at home. I even noticed one child drawing the burning of the man in the studio this week.
I am thrilled that the children are excited. My hope is to take every child who attends the elementary atelier to the Renwick Gallery to see this work in person in the spring. In the meantime, we will be working on projects inspired by Burning Man under broad themes such as “wearable art,” “art on wheels” and “light sculptures.”
Looking forward to an inspired year with the kids!
If you are interested in learning more about Burning Man with your child, I encourage you to do so! Just keep in mind that it is an event more frequented by adults, doing adult things. It’s a good idea to preview sites, photos, and videos before exploring them with your child.
Bringing The Lessons of Burning Man To The World
In this video, nine year old Julia Wolfe describes her experiences, and what can be learned from Burning Man.
The Experience Of A 12-Time, 15-Year-Old Burner
A blog post of an interview with a teenager who has grown up attending Burning Man nearly every year they have been on the planet.
The website for an upcoming book about the children of the playa with some great pictures.
Curious about attending a “burn” yourself or with the family? You don’t have to go all the way out to Nevada to have a taste of the Burning Man experience; there are many regional burns that happen throughout the year. Reach out if you would like to know more!